A Birthday Day of Adventures For a 16-Year-Old Boy

by Katy on May 19, 2014 · 27 comments

My younger son turned sixteen today, but since his birthday fell on a Monday, we celebrated yesterday. A few years ago, I started a new family tradition where the four of us spend the day together going from one activity to another. I call it a “Birthday Day of Adventures,” and it involves planning out a day where we participate in the activities that the birthday person likes to do, and eating the food they like to eat. I have the activities be out of our normal routine, as well as a complete surprise and is thus very exciting.

I also try to have the day not break the bank. Activities we’ve done over the past few years include:

  • Roller skating, (I had a coupon.)
  • Laser tag, (I brought the kids’ report cards, as each “A” earns a free session.)
  • Underground day-glo pirate theme mini-golf, (I had a coupon.)
  • Japanese super huge grocery store.
  • Conveyer belt sushi.
  • Movies, (I had coupons for a free movie.)

My initial plan for yesterday was to go to the Oregon coast for the day, but a certain someone forgot it was supposed to be a surprise and was talking freely about it in front of the kids. So I completely switched everything up on Saturday night.

Here’s what we did for celebrate my son’s 16th birthday:

My son loves falafel, so I searched through Yelp to find the city’s best falafel, which turned out to be the Wolf and Bear’s food cart not too far from the house. Yes, the falafel were $9.25 apiece, but they were truly tasty. This was a bit of a splurge.

Here’s my son patiently waiting for his lunch.

Waiting for food

We then drove over to a Regal Cinema to watch the new Spiderman movie. Why Regal? Because the Oregon Nurses Association sent me two free tickets for Nurses’ Week. And since we chose a 12:35 P.M. matinee, the cost for the four of us was only $16. We got there a bit too early, but the guys kept themselves entertained on their phones.

Waiting for Spiderman

Our next stop was to the Ground Kontrol “classic arcade” in Old Town, which ate up $25 of our quarters in short order. (I played two games of Pac-Man, although I did find three quarters on the ground, so I came out ahead. 😉 My 18-year-old son mostly played pinball, while my younger son spent his time on the actual video games:


My two sons are as different from one another as is humanly possible.

Star Trek pinball

The last two stops were sadly undocumented, but included:

A stop at Starbucks, where my husband used his free birthday drink to buy an enormous caramel Frappucino, which they nicely split into two cups.

A take-out dinner from KFC, which included a bucket of chicken, two sides, biscuits and a cake for $22.99! My son has eaten KFC once (once!) in his life during a car trip, and has been talking about it ever since. I knew that this indulgence would be an enormous hit, and it was. (Poor guy. It’s hard to have a mom who doesn’t buy fast food.)

Although my husband did buy a our son a Liverpool soccer jersey, the main birthday gift was the Day of Adventures. This kid doesn’t need anything, and the memory of any stuff would soon fade away. (Quick, name what you received for Christmas in 2013!)

Research shows that experiences make us happier than stuff, and by including others in the fun of our birthdays, we spread the happiness to all of us.

It’s just so much fun!

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Andrea A. May 19, 2014 at 9:15 am

Agree with the “experience” gift idea. My oldest is turning 16 tomorrow. I will take her to lunch near school as a treat and she’ll have a favorite dinner at home. Cookout w/family and cake on Memorial Day. Big gift is seeing “The Phantom of the Opera” stage production in June. That she will remember!


T.L. Bodine May 19, 2014 at 9:27 am

When I was in college, my group of friends always did this for each other’s birthdays. On the day of the party, we’d “kidnap” the birthday girl/boy and drag them out to their favorite places in town. Because my birthday is in the beginning of September, it always coincides with the opening of the Spirit Halloween store, and we’d always end up there (Halloween is my favorite holiday, I get stupidly excited about it). We’d never actually buy anything, just wander around marveling at the stuff. Other people got to explore other places on their birthdays 😉

Afterward, being college students, the night would usually involve quite a bit of alcohol and shenanigans. The next day, we got into the tradition of going to Red Lobster for endless shrimp.

That’s one part of the birthday tradition that still happens, years later. Pretty much the only time I ever eat at Red Lobster is my birthday (which always coincides with endless shrimp), and everybody looks forward to it every year.


Katy May 19, 2014 at 10:13 am

That sounds like a lot of fun! I wish someone would kidnap me and take me on adventures.


Megyn May 19, 2014 at 9:48 am

The day sounds perfect! It’s funny that you mention the excitement over fast food as my now 4 year old was given a McDonald’s gift card for his birthday. I’ve never taken them there, and they always see the playland, so it was a big hit. The biggest negative is that their fries contain meat, which sent my vegetarian near-6 year old into a moment of panic once he learned about it AFTER he ate them. We ended up spending $5 of the $15 and just gave the remainder to a homeless person. It’s good for one time and no more 😉


Jane F May 19, 2014 at 1:49 pm

How did the Birthday Boy feel?


Katy May 19, 2014 at 1:56 pm

He loved it!


Amanda May 19, 2014 at 4:18 pm

Love the Day of Adventures idea!


Trish May 19, 2014 at 5:17 pm

It’s actually easy to name what I got for Christmas in 2013…nothing! Recently divorced, living alone, so…zip.


dusty May 20, 2014 at 3:26 am

You’re not alone, I had the same Christmas. Next Christmas will be better.


ArdenLynn May 19, 2014 at 5:20 pm

Happy Birthday to your son!!

The other day we had a very late soccer game and came home to an extremely overdone crockpot chicken. I was past endurance at that point and called a McDonalds night. My dh and I laughed watching the 4 younger kids trying to figure out how to work the drink machine. It’s that long between fast food trips.


Lynda May 20, 2014 at 12:47 am

Underground day-glo pirate theme mini-golf? Well, that’s ticked all the right boxes 😀


Madeline May 20, 2014 at 2:35 am

I love this idea and have also done it for my husband for Father’s Day and Birthday’s–we hike, so me and our son researched trails with waterfalls one year and got Dad up early,packed a picnic and our backpacks, and did not tell him where we were going..and had a great day in Nature. As a youngster myself my folks would do daytrips for my birthday: We went to Greenwich Village,New York one year, Wildwood,N.J., the Amish Country in Pennsylvania, and the Philadelphia Zoo. MUCH more fun than presents!!!!


kathleen May 20, 2014 at 3:03 am

The picture of the guys with their phones cracked me up. I love the idea of adventures all day.


patti May 20, 2014 at 6:19 am

Great birthdays!! You are so creative and thoughtful, Katy. They will always remember this. Our family also likes experiences vs. things but we have never really done a “Day of Adventure”. Might try that this summer!


Barb May 20, 2014 at 7:18 am

What, no world cup jersey?? Just kidding.


Joanna May 21, 2014 at 7:13 pm

Can you plan my next birthday day?!?! It is June 12th. 😀

Also, your sons are such handsome young men. And I mean that in the most non-creepy internet way. *Hope I didn’t make things awkward.*


Katy May 21, 2014 at 10:02 pm

I agree. Handsome little devils.


Rubymay1029 May 23, 2014 at 4:03 am

My soon to be 9-year-old daughter loved the idea of a birthday day adventure, so we are totally doing that this year! It won’t be as frugal as yours, because one of the things I can’t get discounted, but it will still be cheaper and more fun than a silly kid party for 15 of her “friends.”

We are going to start the day with pain your own pottery, lunch at Chili’s (her favorite restaurant and we rarely go), and then a visit to the exotic feline rescue center. Then a visit to the “big park” which is the largest of our local parks and the playground is awesome, followed by dinner and birthday cupcakes at home.

Thank you for another GREAT idea!


MELODY September 12, 2014 at 12:10 pm

your son is adorable.. looks like a boyband singer my daughter said. LOL.. but i love your ideas. Great! my son is turning 16 this November and I am stumped. He is a quiet boy and mostly is on his phone or playing basketball or baseball. Loves his video games as well. I’m sure I will think of something. Maybe a basketball game or something. Anyways.. thanks for the ideas.


Tiffany Orr December 30, 2014 at 8:57 am

What an awesome Idea I love it. Thanks


Nick May 1, 2015 at 3:25 pm

Nah kids actually remember the gifts a lot too. I can remember what I got for every Christmas and birthday, because if you put thought in a gift you make it special and they won’t forget it


Debbie Cole May 11, 2015 at 2:10 pm

Loved your ideas! Thank you for inspiring me!


Marie April 22, 2017 at 10:41 pm

still sound expensive and inflated. Hope he can appreciate simple things in life later, such as, fishing, hiking, site seeing, family time. Unplug and have some fun.


Katy April 23, 2017 at 8:26 pm

This is one day of his life, and he gets to be spoiled on his birthday.


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